Monday, February 24, 2014

Brief Thoughts: Misinformation about running injuries all over the internet

I can't remember why, but I was reading an article on WebMD when I saw a sidebar linking to a sports injury quiz.  Since a large part of what I do every day is working to get to the bottom of running injuries, I decided to check it out.  Though most of the questions were about traumatic injuries to the upper body, which are much more common in contact sports, there were a few on running injuries.  I'm pretty used to seeing misconceptions all over the place when it comes to the causes and optimal treatments for running injuries, but one slide bothered me because a) it was so aggressively incorrect and b) WebMD content is supposed to be vetted and approved by a medical doctor, which lends it an air of authority.

I've reproduced the offending slide below:

The available answers, by the way, were "torn ligaments," "inflammation," "tiny fractures," and "all of the above," none of which are wholly satisfactory.

As readers who have perused my Injury Series articles will know, "shin splints" is a vague term that usually refers to medial tibial stress syndrome, which is a well-defined problem that occurs on the medial edge of the tibia (your shinbone).  Unfortunately, the term "shin splints" has morphed into a catch-all term for any exercise-related pain in the shin.  WebMD's picture of an athlete icing the lateral side of the upper shin certainly doesn't help.  The equation of "shin splints" to "shin pain of any sort" causes mundane things like shin muscle fatigue and more serious things like anterior compartment syndrome to be conflated with medial tibial stress syndrome under the improperly-used umbrella term of "shin splints."

Worse, the answer—"inflammation of muscles, tendons, bone, and other tissue surrounding the shin bone"—is demonstrably incorrect. Though the main purpose of this post is to address the larger issue of outdated or simply incorrect information about running injuries that's all over the place on the internet, I should be thorough and formulate a more proper answer to the question of what "shin splints"—understood to be medial tibial stress syndrome—are caused by.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ask Running Writings Episode 5: Time off after a racing season

In this video, I answer a question from a viewer on how much time you should take off at the end of your competitive season. Many coaches recommend or even require their runners to take 10-14 days completely off from running. What are the benefits of doing this, and is it necessary for everyone?

If you've got a question that you'd like answered on a future episode of Ask Running Writings, leave a comment on the video page or drop me a line at the Contact Me page!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Yearly progression in training for high schoolers

Your training schedule is perhaps the most important determiner of your long-term success as a runner in high school, college, and beyond.  Well, that and your consistency—how well you are able to adhere to your training schedule.  The running career of a talented young high school runner is often determined by his or her long-term training structure: not just the workouts he or she runs this week or this month, but the progression of those workouts and the overall training structure each successive season and each successive year.  Today, instead of writing about specific workouts, I'd like to talk about how you can progress your training from season to season and from year to year. 

Just as you grow wiser, stronger, older, and more sophisticated as a person over time, so too should your training.  In general, as a runner becomes older, he or she should aspire to run more mileage, more volume in workouts, and have a schedule that is more complex. The most obvious application of these principles is in coaching high schoolers who aim to progress from complete novices to state or national-caliber runners in only a few years.  This progression necessarily continues in college, and beyond if they continue to compete as a post-collegiate runner.  Though we'll use the example of a high school runner below, many of the same principles about progression in training apply whether you're thirteen or thirty.

 Below, we'll look at the kind of overarching career training plan that a talented young (8th or 9th grade) male runner might lay out.  I'm not so interested in the training you do during the season, since that's pretty self-explanatory: most weeks should have one high-end aerobic workout, one race-specific workout, and a race or a lighter tertiary workout, with the other days filled in with easy mileage.  Besides, in-season training is largely out of the control of high school and college athletes.  Where they should focus, and where the big gains in fitness happen, is training during the "off season," or the summer and the winter.

Each season, you should have an "ideal" schedule that you gradually work your way up to during your base training (usually summer/winter), then maintain for several weeks.  The real key to long-term improvement is good, consistent training.  I'd much rather see a boy who's a rising high school junior string together four or five weeks of 55 miles than go all-in on one week of 80 just for bragging rights.